I am concerned with the City of Ennis’s reputation. They seem to be garnering the mantel of a backward jurisdiction with a Barney Fife police force.
I resist that notion. I still want to believe that the men and women on our police force are sincerely serving our community with personal integrity and with honor. But it is hard.
To maintain that notion, I am clinging to the idea that they have inept leadership, and those who ought to know better are allowing otherwise fine officers to look foolish.
On Tuesday, March 9, Officer McCurdy arrested me. He did not tell me what law I had allegedly broken. After cooling my jets in the Ennis city jail for 26 hours, (10 AM Tuesday to just after 12:30 PM on Wednesday, according to my phone records.) I was keen to look at the citation to see what the particular charge was.
I was not given one.
What I did receive was a “personal recognizance” bond form with the charge “Impeding traffic/Bike Offence” in Municipal Judge Johnson’s handwriting and his signature. This was different than last time. I wonder: Was my previous arrest handled in an irregular manner, or was this latest time the irregular one?
I suspect, but I can’t be certain, so this is somewhat speculative: Why was I held for about three hours after the PR bond was signed? I think they would have held me longer but it was easier to release me than to make a run to McDonalds for another dollar value menu hamburger.
So Friday I stop at the court to file seven motions and plead not guilty to this charge. I ask the court clerk for my case number. She runs my case envelope through the copy machine. Here is what my case envelope says:
E0011786 01 100053359
Fin: 100.00 Cst: 94.00 Due: 194.00
Officer: MCCURDY, JASON E
FAILURE TO KEEP BICYCLE ON RIGHT SIDE OFROAD
Violation Date: 3/9/2010
Yeah, that charge has me scratching my head too. As absurd as it is, they avoided an even worse charge that the police were considering, and perhaps this is just a reflection of it.
I wonder who changed it to “Impeding Traffic/Bike Offense”. Was it Judge Johnson cleaning it up after closely questioning the circumstances surrounding my arrest by interviewing the four officers who were present? Did he interview any of the 911 callers who accuse me of impeding them?
Who else has the authority to change the charges? Toby Mash, our city attorney?
My recollection of how it went down
With unsubstantiated anonymous reports of death and mayhem pouring in to the Ennis 911 system, three patrol units and four Ennis city officers responded to suppress the latest crime wave on Hwy 287.
Now while I always strive to be polite, some of my friends have counseled me that my style of presenting my case can feel confrontational. Making declarative statements of what the law actually says to a police officer can get their backs up, apparently. “You may be right, Reed, but they think they know the law. You can’t appear to be schooling the teacher.”
So I am resolved to defend myself with Officer McCurdy by avoiding declarative statements by asking questions instead. (Y’all can see how well that worked out!)
So after I take his picture, I concentrate on presenting my case through questions.
Chip “Why did you stop me?”
OM “We have been getting a lot of 911 calls.”
Chip “Couldn’t the 911 operator inform them that bicycles are allowed to operate on the roadway in Texas?”
OM “We are concerned with your safety.”
Chip “Oh, you stopped me on a safety violation?”
OM “Yes. You were riding out there”; He pointed to the roadway. “Why weren’t…”
Chip, interrupting; “Now you are talking about traffic law, not a safety violation!”
OM “… you riding over here on the shoulder?”
Chip “So did you stop me for a traffic violation or a safety violation?”
OM “Traffic law is about safety.”
Chip “How wide is that travel lane?”
OM “I’m not here to argue about the law.”
Officer McCurdy seemed a little flustered, and unsure of himself. He tried a different tack.
OM “You know tractors, right? They have to have those slow moving vehicle signs on them.”
Chip, displaying the back of his messenger bag that has a 7” by 7” triangle on it; “You mean one of these?”
OM “Yes, but bigger, you need to have one of those to ride out there.”
Chip “So you stopped me because I have an equipment violation?”
OM, looking hopefully toward arriving backup officers; “No…” He seems sorry he brought it up.
Chip “So if I get a big triangle, I can drive on the roadway?”
OM “No, I’m not here to argue about the law.”
Enter Sgt. Pillow. She came toward the front of officer McCurdy’s unit, but would not advance closer to us than standing beside the front wheel. I suspect she was avoiding being viewed by the dash camera. She and I exchange greetings with each other by name.
SP “Mr. Bates, we have been through this before, you need to be riding over here.” She points to the shoulder.
(I want to say that I replied that shoulder use was optional, and I chose not to, but frankly I don’t remember what I said here. I will take the time to transcribe the dash-cam audio when it is made available to me. I hope what I write here will correspond to the audio. I will post it so you can see how well I did.)
SP “This is a designated bike lane here. You are required to ride on it.”
Chip, in astonishment “Where are the signs designating it? How is the public to know it’s a bike lane?”
SP “It is a designated bike lane”
She holds a quick roadside conference with the other two officers present.
OM distracts me “This is a wide shoulder. It’s in pretty good shape. It’s pretty clean. Why won’t you ride on it?
Chip “It is more dangerous than the roadway.”
Officer McCurdy dismisses all of my objections as inadequate, and I am irked that I am being required to justify opting “no” to what by state law is optional. I finally ask him what vehicles are required to use the shoulder. “I’m not here to argue the law.” He said, as he went to consult Sgt. Pillow.
He returns after a moment and places me under arrest. Outside of “OK” and “thank you”, I say not a word more. Officer McCurdy never tells me what I am being arrested for, and so for the next 26 hours I am hoping it will be a Sec.551.103 (a)(4)(A) violation of failure to use a designated bike lane. Wouldn’t that be a hoot!
Which behavior causes the most harm?
It is clear by their roadside behavior, the line officers are not getting guidance from their leadership other than “get him off the road!” These officers are casting about for any excuse to arrest me and make the 911 calls stop. But the way charges are changed after the fact, why do they even bother?
Clearly, what the law actually says, allows and prohibits has no importance at the street level. The Ennis police apparently are buffeted by forces beyond all that nitpicky legal stuff. Any excuse , no matter how ridiculous, is seized on to justify arrest.
And our judge and city attorney clean it up and back them up.
Logic and reason likewise are unable to deter this manic imperative to put the irksome uppity cyclist in his place. Could someone point to the harm that requires an arrest be made? With at least 20 hours of exposure on Hwy 287 and more than 300 miles expended crossing it, who has been harmed? Bring forth the victims!
If operating on that roadway were such a perilous activity, why am I still able to write this after all that exposure? Shouldn’t I be road kill by now?
But with the international attention being drawn to the City of Ennis, are continued arrests worth the damage they are causing to our reputation? It is easy to draw images of Barney Fife blundering about. Negative slander is carried along with popular notions of “southern small town corruption”. The behavior of our police can be easily cast as typical ignorant prejudice. [biking in heels, Rantwick, city cycle]
The lawfulness of my behavior is clear to any who can read. There plenty of helpful guides on-line if one needs help.  People outside of Texas have a better handle on the rights of cyclists in Texas than the Ennis PD does! Oh yes, let’s keep arresting the bicyclist!
Who should back down, the City of Ennis or ChipSeal?
Perhaps the City of Ennis should wait to see how the new appeal trial turns out. Such a claim would save face and allow further sport at our expense to cease. It would be just like those two years prior to October 2009 when I drove around just like do now, but without the drama. (How did Ennis get along all that time without arresting me? Can the City of Ennis point to chaos and mayhem during that period when I was “unregulated”?)
Or perhaps I should voluntarily abandon exerting my right to drive on the public roadway. Suck it up and drive where it is less safe. Expose myself to greater peril for the greater good. (Reducing the work-load of our 911 operator?) Take to gravel roads and take longer trips.
I should just stay home, or take the bus. (There is no bus.) I could walk the six miles to town for groceries. If I took a wheelbarrow, I would be a vehicle and thus traffic, and able to use the roadway!  I would no longer write critical phone numbers on my arm before leaving the house.
No, I think not. The more the City of Ennis strives to remove my right to the public road, the more dear that right seems to me. I won’t be backing down, Ennis. Perhaps you should weigh the costs and reconsider before proceeding.
 The Ennis PD should make haste to update their copies of the TTC. It is shameful that Officer Watson was made to look the fool because he was provided with an outdated copy of the TTC
 Sec. 541.201. (23) "Vehicle" means a device that can be used to transport or draw persons or property on a highway.
Sec. 541.301. TRAFFIC. In this subtitle "traffic" means pedestrians, ridden or herded animals, and conveyances, including vehicles and streetcars, singly or together while using a highway for the purposes of travel.